Saturday, May 29, 2010

The "Coffin Corner . . ."

B-26 Martin Marauder Bomber Planes in formation over France, 1945,

permission to reproduce - 'National Archives'.

We, the smaller and lighter two-engine, B-26 Bombers had much more maneuverability than the bigger, heavier bombers and if necessary we could get in a very, very tight formation, almost wing tip to wing tip. It was in a step pattern from front to back, so that the lead plane's bombs wouldn't fall on the following planes. And that step pattern followed progressively from the front of the formation to the rear.

Unfortunately, the antiaircraft fire (ack-ack) was always a problem. You just couldn't believe how those Germans got so good. We are at ten or fifteen thousand feet, flying at 150 to 200 mph. And in about thirty seconds, they could put that stuff right up in our formation. Thank God it took those thirty seconds for the shell to get up there, because then we had the time to employ evasive action. We knew that those shells would be blasting us if we kept flying in a straight line, so we turned about forty-five degrees (maybe right initially, then forty-five degrees) to the left. If we looked out to see where we would have been if we had kept in a straight line, there were the ack-ack bursts, right there! But the whole formation never got completely out of the way; the planes on the far outside of the formation sometimes remained in harm's way. Those outside planes in the formation were called the “coffin corner.” Each time we had a flight, we were assigned a different

spot in the formation. Our crew members knew that, eventually, we would be assigned the “coffin corner.” Our crew lucked out for ten missions. Then on our eleventh mission, we got assigned the “coffin corner.” Particularly for us, that was the appropriate name for that position in the formation. Normally the ack-ack, when it explodes, makes a woofing sound. But all of a sudden, on this mission, one of the woofing sounds turned into a BANG.! A shell went through our right engine. I looked around, and there were glass shards everywhere. Also, the right bay window was broken. Then Bill, the top turret gunner, calls down to me and says, “Get me down.” I pull the cord to let him down and ask if he is all right. He says he's got shrapnel in his left leg. I said I didn't think it was so bad, but he says look up in the turret. I look up and it is practically blown away. Our interphone network wasn't working, so the bombardier/navigator (he did both) comes back and says, “Put your parachutes on—we have to bail out.” He had come through the bomb bay on a little catwalk while the doors were open and after the bombs had been jettisoned. Pretty scary.

Find out more about the B-26 Flying Formation, and one young soldier's experiences while being shot down over France, World War II, 1945, his plane's first run in the 'Coffin Corner!'